Traditional knowledge key to conserving biodiversity

Climate change, unsustainable development and biodiversity loss are mounting threats to life on earth and human societies. Throughout the ages, local communities have developed knowledge and tools for survival and adaptation to their environment. But as indigenous cultures, local languages and practices are eroded, so is our civilization’s resilience to new environmental challenges.

Remote and marginalized cultures that have survived in balance with nature for thousands of years will simply disappear if climate change is allowed to go unchecked much longer.

A new book, Biocultural Diversity Conservation, a Global Sourcebook, published with the support of IUCN, analyses the inextricable link between cultural heritage and ecological knowledge, and spells out recommendations for preserving both culture and nature.

The book was written by Luisa Maffi, Executive Director of the NGO Terralingua, a member of IUCN, promoting the importance of biocultural diversity, and Ellen Woodly, an expert in culture, sustainable development and climate change adaptation.

Based on a worldwide survey of 45 projects on the ground, the book is a first of its kind, providing accessible and comprehensive information on the links between culture and nature to affect thinking on a global scale.

“As known to biologists, diversity contributes to ecosystem’s resilience, and there are growing indications that the same applies to human cultures.” Says Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN Senior Adviser on social policy who has been long involved in work on biocultural diversity with Terralingua and other expert networks. There is no sustainable future without greater resilience of both ecological and social systems.”

The Gamo people of Ethiopia’s veneration of spirits believed to control some sacred sites have helped to prevent over-exploitation of these areas. But as traditional beliefs are in decline, tree cutting, cattle grazing and forest encroachment are on the rise.

India’s Andaman Island is host to the last survivors of pre-Neolithic populations. There are 50 remaining Great Andamanese people on India’s Andaman Island, and only 7 still speak their ancestral language. But the wealth of information in their language on local ecology, species and natural disasters offered them protection against the 2004 tsunami.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Since governments are pressed to come up with new action to halt the loss of biodiversity - as they will fail to fulfill the 2010 targets set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity - this book is an essential guide for anyone acting in this field.

“We believe our book can help influence policy and practice that helps people to deeply cherish and care for the inherent, but quickly declining, diversity of all biological and cultural life,” says Luisa Maffi, co-author of the book. ”Biocultural diversity is not something outside us – it is the sum total of nature and culture and the many-faceted expression of the beauty and potential of life on this planet”

For more information on “Biocultural Diversity Conservation, a Global Sourcebook”, please contact:
Pia Drzewinski, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 857 4072, e [email protected]


Work area: 
Global Policy
Social Policy
Protected Areas
Social Policy
Environmental Law
Go to top